having my way with winter squash

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As we tumble into fall, all eyes turn to those fleshy orange squashes that we associate with holiday cooking.  Although I must say that I recently devoured a maple cream puree made with the grey squash above, I prefer winter squash dishes that don’t add extra sugar.  The marshmallow yam Thanksgiving casserole?  *shudder*

Sure, a little sugar heightens flavor, and a sweetener like maple syrup (especially the stronger tasting Grade B) can add nuances to the monochromatic flesh of squash.  So can smoky fats and meaty nuts.  When making roasted squash, I opt for olive oil and spices like coriander, cumin, and black pepper instead of the baking spices, or a Japanese flavor profile of soy sauce, mirin or sake, and sesame.  I like roasting because it creates different textures on the top and bottom of the squash pieces.

Pumpkin soup made with white miso is fantastic.  For Thanksgiving, I’ll sometimes make small cups of my kabocha squash and bacon soup.  The ultra-rich, smooth, dense texture of the kabocha makes particularly good soup.  Or add a little bourbon, and olive oil infused with rosemary and thyme, the ingredients of the world’s first perfume, Queen of Hungary water.  A couple of weeks ago, I made a lighter soup from sweet meat squash (the grey squash I’ve already mentioned) with fresh cream, zucchini shreds, and corn, flavored with the nutty Egyptian spice mix dukkha.

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It’s all good, as my students say.  To turn squash into a soup, you can either simmer chunks in water or chicken stock until tender, then smash up right in the same pot, or take the easy route and roast the squash in larger pieces (halves or quarters, depending on the size) with the skin on.  Brush the pieces with a little vegetable oil, then roast at 375 degrees.  When tender, let the squash cool until you’re able to scoop the flesh from the skin.  Much easier to manage than hacking off the uncooked skin, plus you get a flavor boost from the roasting.

When turning the roasted squash into soup, add a few cups of rich milk or chicken stock, and your spices of choice.  I won’t even complain if you add a little maple syrup and tiny pieces of bacon.  Or, if you cook up your bacon and then let it caramelize in some maple syrup, *then* add it.  No, I sure won’t.

bittersweet orange to clear the taste from our mouths

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And what better way to celebrate two more short days of bitter rule than a pot of homemade bitter orange marmalade?

dscf3430After two days of chopping, juicing, stirring, stickysugaring, dicing, scraping, squeezing gloopy natural pectin from orange seeds, and playing with napalm ooze, the two batches of citrus marmalade are finished: dark, complex Seville Orange and Meyer Lemon, and light, bright Kumquat and Satsuma.

I had a very special request for marmalades last month, so I brought home citrus from Berkeley Bowl.  The poor things languished while I had my car incident in San Francisco, and the struggle to get caught up afterward.  Then, as luck would have it, I spied some perfect kumquats at Market of Choice the other day, looking much better than the moldy old ones at Berkeley Bowl (?!? the local deities will forgive me), so I suddenly had twice the work.  This is my life.  I complain.  But still I don’t change.  Can’t change?  Won’t change.  Yet.

Anyway, I don’t have anything fascinating to report, other than it takes forever and is a giant pain in the a$$.  Making the pectin from the big goober ball of orange seeds and membranes was kind of cool.  I had never made pectin before.  You boil the seeds in cheesecloth, then squeeze out the jell they form into your fruit.  The marmalades set up beautifully.

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The recipes I used were slight adaptations of David Lebovitz’s Seville Orange Marmalade, and the Ball Blue Book’s Kumquat Marmalade.  The kumquat recipe is much sweeter and less complex than the Seville orange, and it’s not just the difference in recipes.  Lebovitz’s cooks much longer, probably twice the time.

But if you think about the fruit, it also makes sense.

Kumquats are kind of one-dimensional.  I think I’d mix them with Sevilles if I ever make marmalade again.  Which I probably won’t.  I actually have a blister on my chopping finger.  A blister!  Look at those ragged cuticles!  Woe is me!  Woe!

All right, fine; don’t feel sorry for me.  I’m going to go eat some marmalade and think about sweeter times ahead.

how to cut an orange for a sick man

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I learned this trick in Japan.  Try Cara Cara navel oranges, if you can find them. They’re the best orange I’ve had in a long time. They sell them in Eugene at the Market of Choice on 29th.  Cut an orange in half, but cut through the stem ends, i.e., perpendicular to the way you usually cut through the middle of an orange. Then, segment the orange by cutting each half into four pieces. For each piece, trim off the white pith, then run the knife between the fruit and the peel. Only cut 2/3 to 3/4 of the way along the peel, so a part of the orange is still attached to the peel. The bedridden recipient of your gift of orangey goodness will be able to hold the orange by the peel and free the last bit easily. Serve with a warm, damp paper towel to protect your sheets.